The Exclamation Point: When to Use It and When To Lose It

Published: Jan 11, 2012

Prior to the advent of the email, text, and blog, the exclamation point lived a rather quiet, low-profile existence. Rarely was the straight line above a single dot used in handwritten letters, typed letters, or telegrams (if you've never heard of these, ask your great-grandfather about them). However, since written correspondence went online and cellular, the exclamation point has made a monstrous comeback. Today, in emails, texts, and Facebook posts, the exclamation point is nearly as frequent as the comma and period. And it's even crept into more formal correspondence, including resumes, cover letters, thank you notes, and all types of business-related emails. Now, although lingual purists (such as novelist Elmore Leonard, who's said of the exclamation point that "you're allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose") will recommend to almost never use the mark since it underscores weak writing skills and is overly informal, there are a few exceptions (but just a few) when the exclamation is fair game to use when applying for a job or after you've landed one. To that end, here are some (unofficial) exclamation point rules to live (and write) by.

1. Never on a resume. Never in a cover letter. Only as a last resort in a thank you.
The reason for this is resumes and cover letters should be extremely formal and devoid of anything flashy, such as colored text, out of the ordinary fonts, overuse of all caps or bolding, informal language and/or slang, and attempts at humor. Thank you notes, meanwhile, should be equally as formal, although if you feel as if your words are not doing the job in communicating your excitement about the possibility of working for XYZ Inc. and/or you feel as though the rapport you had with your interviewer calls for some added emotion, then okay, you're allowed to use a single exclamation mark in the body of your thank you.

2. Never more than one exclamation in an email.
Even if you want to get across that you're extremely on board with a certain project, or how excellent the work of a colleague was, or how appreciative you were that your cube mate brought back that box of chocolates from his trip to Brussels, still only employ (if you must at all) a single exclamation in your email. More than one will make you sound like a middle-schooler surreptitiously passing a note to a friend a row over. Plus, it's poor grammar to use more than one.

3. Exclaim sparingly.
Exclamation points work best when used infrequently; they lose their bite if used all the time. That is, if you find yourself always writing "Thanks!" to colleagues or interviewers, it's likely what they're actually reading is "Thanks." So, instead, try to vary your response. For example, for expressions of gratitude that exclaim without an exclamation point, try one of these: "Thanks so much" and "I greatly appreciate it" and "Thank you, INSERT FIRST NAME." That way, when you do use that rare exclamation on a special occasion, your words will, in fact, scream!